“My stiffest earthly assignment is ended and my major life’s work is done. My country is now free and I have been honored to be its first indigenous head of state. What more could one desire in life?” Nnamdi Azikiwe, talking about Nigeria’s Independence on October 1, 1960.http://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2013/06/nnamdi-azikiwe-great-pan-africanist-and.html
Chief Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe, usually referred to as“Great Zik of Africa”, was one of the leading figures of modern African Nationalism. He is a well-known African elder statesman, for many years played a prominent role in the fight for the emancipation of Black Africa from colonial rule. For many of those who lived in colonial Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe was a super-man sent especially to free them from alien rule. He is a key figure among West African nationalists who envisaged a united Ibo people, he was the ceremonial president at independence and head of state although Nigeria’s first republic (1960-1963).
His nationalism ideas started alongside Africa’s finest nationalist; Herbert Macaulay they were both champions of the masses and hold a strong opposition to the British rule of western Africa. Azikiwe was born on 16 November 1904, in Zungeru, Northern Nigeria. His parents were Igbo. He attended Methodist Boys High School Lagos, and later went to the United States. While there he attended Howard University, Washington DC, before enrolling and graduating from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, in 1930. He obtained a master’s degree in Religion from Lincoln University in 1932 and another master’s degree in Anthropology from University of Pennsylvania in 1934. He worked as an instructor at Lincoln before returning to Nigeria.
Azikiwe’s nationalism journey comprises of his encounter with various people of same interest. After teaching at Lincoln, Azikiwe, in November 1934, took the position of editor for the African Morning Post, a daily newspaper in Accra, Ghana. In that position he promoted a pro-African nationalist agenda and mentored another Africa’s finest nationalist; Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.Zik had been instrumental in sending many Ghanaian and Nigerian students to Lincoln. The most famous of these was Nkrumah. “My nationalism was also revived … through articles written in The West African Morning Post by Nnamdi Azikwe, a Nigerian from Onitsha. Azikiwe was himself a graduate from an American university and when I had first met him after he had addressed a meeting of the Gold Coast Teachers’ Association some years earlier in Accra, I had been greatly impressed by him and had been more determined than ever to go to America.” – Kwame Nkrumah. In his passionately denunciatory articles and public statements he censured the existing colonial order: the restrictions on the Africans’ right to express their opinions, and racial discrimination. He also criticized those Africans who belonged to the “elite” of colonial society and favored retaining the existing order, as they regarded it as the basis of their well-being.”
After his job and encounter with Nkrumah in Ghana, he returned to Lagos, Nigeria, in 1937 and founded the West African Pilot, which he used as a vehicle to foster Nigerian nationalism. He founded the Zik Group of Newspapers, publishing multiple newspapers in cities across the country.
Azikiwe became active in the Nigerian Youth Movement, the first genuinely nationalist organization in Nigeria. After a successful journalism enterprise, Azikiwe entered into politics, co-founding the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons alongside Herbert Macaulay in 1944 and worked with the well-known advocate Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as prime minister in the 60s.
He died on 11 May 1996, at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, in Enugu, Enugu State, after a protracted illness. He was buried in his native Onitsha. His efforts and legacy has been said to rival that of non-other African nationalist. Former Lincoln University President Sudarkasa asserted that “Zik was the only African leader whose history as Pan-Africanist theoretician and activist predated and rivaled that of Nkrumah.” Prof Ali Mazrui also observed that “for parts of Africa, Nnamdi Azikiwe`s life traversed the entire span of European colonial rule and beyond.”
Places named after Azikiwe include the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu, the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Anambra State, Nnamdi Azikiwe Press Centre, Azikiwe Avenue, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. His portrait adorns Nigeria’s five hundred naira currency note.
He rose to the highest rank of respect among the Igbo people of Nigeria and in 1960, Queen Elizabeth II appointed him to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. He was conferred with the highest national honor of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic by the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in 1980. He has received fourteen honorary degrees from Nigerian, American and Liberian universities, which include Lincoln University, Storer College, Howard University, Michigan State University, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Lagos, Ahmadu Bello University, University of Ibadan, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and University of Liberia.
Azikiwe was actively involved in sports at every stage of his life, and he was successful in many of the events that he participated in. he received numerous award like Welterweight Boxing Champion Storer College; Gold Medalist in Cross Country, Storer College; Howard University; Captain, Lincoln University Soccer Team; Winner Two Miles Run, Central Inter-Collegiate Athletic Association Championships at Hampton Institute Virginia; Gold Medalist in the 1,000 yard run, Democratic Field Day Championships, New Haven, Connecticut; to mention but a few.
During his lifetime, he held several political posts, especially in Nigeria. They include Executive Committee Member of Mambili Party, Accra; General Secretary of National Council of Nigerian and the Cameroons; President of the NCNC ; Vice-President of the Nigerian National Democratic Party; Member for Lagos and Leader of the Opposition in the Western House of Assembly, Minister of Internal Affairs, Eastern Region; President of the Senate of the Federation; Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria; President of the Republic of Nigeria ; and Chairman and Presidential candidate of the Nigeria People’s Party .
He made a name for himself in the professional world. The many posts he held included: Instructor in Political Science, Lincoln University; University Correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American; Editor-in Chief of the West African Pilot; Managing Director of Zik’s Press Limited printers and publishers of the West African Pilot, Managing Director of Comet Press Limited ; Chairman of West African Pilot Limited and the Associated Newspapers of Nigeria Limited and six other limited liability companies; Chairman, Nigerian Real Estate Corporation Limited.
Societies and organizations
He was a member of many organizations and societies, including Anti-Slavery Society for the protection of Human Rights; Phi Beta Sigma fraternity ; West African Students’ Union; Onitsha Improvement Union; Zik’s Athletic Club; EkineSekiapu Society of Buguma, Kalabari; Royal Economic Society; Royal Anthropological Institute; British Association for the Advancement of Science; American Society of International Law; American Anthropological Association; American Political Science Association; American Ethnological Society; Amateur Athletic Association of Nigeria; Nigerian Swimming Association, Nigerian Boxing Board of Control; Nigerian Cricket Association; Ibo State Union; Nigerian Table Tennis Association; Nigeria Olympic Committee and British Empire and Commonwealth Games Association.
Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah, first Presidents of Nigeria and Ghana respectively, were educated at the same tertiary institutions: Lincoln University and the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania. Even though Azikiwe appeared to be a pseudo-Pan-Africanist, and a capitalist and of which Capitalism and Pan-Africanism don’t mix, his works and legacy still lived among those who believe in nationalism and the continual freedom of the African.